It is ten years since Laura Marling’s solo debut ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ brought the English songwriter into the spotlight, winning her a Mercury Music Prize nomination. Another five studio albums later and it is clear that Marling has strived to stretch her boundaries with every release, never settling for mediocrity. Her latest offering takes this to a whole new level. In June of 2016, she met Mike Lindsay of Tunng who is also a Mercury Prize-winning producer and was invited to collaborate on his experimental composition project. The duo locked themselves away in Lindsay’s underground London studio and LUMP was born.
The wonderful deep sounding harmonium that opens LUMP should soothe, but it doesn’t. It’s different, but how? It has been manipulated in some way, altered somehow. I think of the Other Side in Stranger Things. The original sound is still there, but it has been damaged…affected. I don’t mean that it has been distorted or filtered. It feels like a living thing…a being on its last legs. Marling’s voice, when it enters, settles into the scene perfectly.
If you keep rolling the dices,
Keep that stake in your heart.
You look like a crooner in crisis,
Shaking your hips like it’s hot”
The drama builds but so organically. Discordant and emotive. This opening track is truly one of the most original and moving pieces of music I have heard in a long time. As it concludes, it really does feel that the harmonium entity has truly given everything it had in that performance.
May I be the Light takes the reins with a pumping Pink Floyd ‘On the Run’ style Moog setting the pace. I really am aware how insulting it could be to suggest that any sound on this album could be attained simply by a preset on a synth. A more apt comparison could be to think of the final chord in the Beatles ‘Day in the Life’. What sounds like a simple piano recording was actually four people playing three pianos with George Martin on Harmonium, all played at the exact same time. My point is that I believe that every nuance of this album has been given the same effort by Mike Lindsay to create a never seen before sonic landscape. What is even more amazing is that a song like May I be the Light can carry such unique sonics, yet be so musical and fit for daytime radio.
Without so much as a stop for breath, Rolling Thunder takes over. Two things strike me. The first is that for a project involving two people, for the most part, it sounds epic. The first reason is Mike Lindsay’s limitless imagination of soundscapes, the second being the chameleon-like voice of Laura Marling. Her subtle vocal variations provide a new character, not just for every track but perhaps several times within each track.
Curse of the Contemporary (video above) is the album’s keystone. Again Marling’s character has evolved, this time to a worldly siren sharing her wisdom in a haunting pentatonic scale. It is a song with stunning depth and originality yet it could be the perfect summer song of this year.
Hand Hold Hero could be a folk song as old as the hills, and so the out of this world treatment it is given by Marling and Lindsay is remarkable. It’s a reflection of the whole album where they use simple themes and devices but their execution is pure genius. Marling’s vulnerability as her voice stoops into its lower register is very special. The same is true in Shake your Shelter until the chorus vocal takes your breath away with its purity.
To be born a crab
Naked and mad
When you can’t go back
This track highlights Laura’s vocal mastery, her cacophony of voices like an ocean choir, endlessly flowing. Incredible.
LUMP is reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Could it be that in a world of streaming services that Marling and Lindsay have realised how to bestow deserved credit to those who contributed? We are reminded that LUMP is a product, but is that subtle hint also that it should be bought and owned? I don’t mind if it is. More than likely though it is to state that LUMP was born out of a state of flow between these two people. It is something that passed through them rather than be created by them.
How it came to be isn’t quite as important as the fact that LUMP exists. Surely this should be a new benchmark of quality in expression for artists seeking meaning and originality in their work, yet keeping it current, relevant, and not up its own ass. This collaboration between Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay should be recorded as one of the most important and necessary works of this decade